I’m a longtime fan of Apple having a three-tiered laptop strategy, with professional, subcompact, and midrange price leader laptop families on offer. That marketing structure is currently exemplified by Apple’s MacBook Pro, MacBook, and MacBook Air lineup respectively.
Some have suggested that Apple is likely to, and should, discontinue the MacBook Air and simplify its laptop offering to just two model families, with redesigned Pro machines and the ultraslim MacBook perhaps getting a 13-inch sibling, and leaving the entry level to the purported PC replacement iPad Pro.
I think that would be a mistake, although it does seem a plausible scenario, especially with many Apple rumor pundits predicting over the past several months that the MacBook Air is on the bubble and unlikely to be replaced.
I agree that a complete redesign of the MacBook Air is a long shot at this point. Almost all the rumor buzz over the past eight months or so has been about a redesigned MacBook Pro. And a major Pro laptop upgrade is long overdue, with some models still powered by now four generations back Haswell Intel Core silicon. The MacBook Air at least has three generations ago Broadwell CPUs.
However, the MacBook Air is reportedly still far and away the best selling Apple laptop, thanks to its relatively friendly price, at least in an Apple pricing context. Consequently, I suspect Apple is hesitant to pull the plug on its strongest-selling notebooks.
Last week, Bloomberg News’s Mark Gurman reported that the MacBook Air will get at least one more revision, consisting of future-proofing with multi-functional USB-C port technology. “That would be good news, although it probably means kissing Apple’s wonderful proprietary MagSafe cord connector goodbye, a decision I and many others consider a retrogressive substitution. Almost certainly, the MacBook Airs will remain the last Apple system sold without a super high resolution Retina display, the living without of which I haven’t found a major hardship with my current mid-2013.
It will also be disappointing if the Air doesn’t also get the 14nm process Skylake family Core processors that most higher-end PC laptops switched to some time ago, but I’m not terribly optimistic. The likely operative question for me will be whether the retrofit of USB-C ports will be enough to convince me to purchase another MacBook Air, however much I like the one I have. Moving up from the mid-2013 22nm fourth-generation Core i5 Haswell MacBook Air, I would also be getting at least 14nm Broadwell Core silicon and eight megabytes of RAM as opposed to my current machine’s four MB. And the Air is a tremendous value as Apple systems go as long as one can live without Retina, which I can.
Motley Fool’s Ashraf Eassa suggested in a recent commentary that Apple should hold off releasing any MacBook Air upgrades until early 2017 in order to be able to include Intel’s 14 nm process seventh-generation Core CPUs, AKA Kaby Lake, which is expected to start shipping in volume in January. I agree that would be great, and would give the old MacBook Air a new lease on life, but I don’t believe there’s any serious likelihood of it happening. If Apple does keep the MacBook Air — at least the 13-inch model — in its lineup for 2017, it will most probably be as its entry level price leader, not as a platform for Intel’s latest cutting-edge CPU technology.
Indeed, Intel’a seventh-gen Core Kaby Lake production ramp-up: is awkward timing for Apple if the latter, as anticipated, wants to launch a redesigned MacBook Pro this fall, since that means it will be obliged to release the new laptop with Core generation six Skylake processors, and if that’s she route they take, I will be surprised if the new MacBook Pro gets a Kaby Lake speed bump before the WWDC 2017 in June, or even next fall, in which case Apple might just skip a Kaby Lake upgrade and wait for the 10nm eighth-generation Cannonlake to arrive in 2018.
Sidebar trivia note: I don’t know if it’s what inspired Intel’s choosing it as development codename for its seventh generation Core CPU family, but Kabinakagami Lake, commonly known as “Kaby Lake”, is a large fly in lake located approximately 70 miles north of Wawa, Ontario, Canada.
According to Intel, their 14nm process 7th Gen Intel Core processors have been developed using an advanced technology they call 14nm+ and feature performance advances across the board, claiming 7th Gen Intel Core delivers up to 12 percent faster productivity performance and up to 19 percent faster web performance over our previous generation Skylake from just a year ago.
Television and movie fans using new computers powered by 7th Gen Intel Core will have access to premium 4K UHD content streaming from studios like Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and providers like FandangoNOW. Kaby Lake users will be able to view 4K UHD content being shared on sites like YouTube and watch for longer on 7th Gen Intel Core based systems. They will also have the power to create, edit and share their own 4K UHD and 360-degree clips up to 15 times faster than on a 5-year-old PC thanks to work Intel have done “under the hood” with their new media engine. Gamers will see a threefold improvement in graphics compared to a 5-year-old PC, and with Thunderbolt 3 support coming to more devices, gamers can use a single cord to plug in an external graphics dock and 4K UHD monitors for top-line gaming performance.
Sounds great, but Cannonlake will be even better, and Coffee Lake is in the development pipeline.